By Justin Strawser
The Daily Item
WILLIAMSPORT — Stephanie Lynn Olin claims in a $3 million federal lawsuit that a Northumberland County Prison guard wrapped a blanket around her neck when she was sleeping and tried to choke her, and that jailhouse administrators prevented her from reporting the abuse.
Olin, a former inmate whose claims of violence at the prison were validated by the county court in September, filed the complaint Wednesday and names as defendants the county, the prison board, two prison managers and the guard who abused her for violating her constitutional rights protecting her from cruel and unusual punishment.
Among those she specifically names are Warden Roy Johnson, Cmdr. Brian Wheary and correctional officer Holly Olvany.
“I believe the management will break the county with this lawsuit,” said Commissioner Vinny Clausi, a member of the prison board. “I told everyone it was coming. Nobody paid attention to me.”
Olin, a former Sunbury resident who lives in Selinsgrove, filed the federal lawsuit in U.S. Middle District Court through Sunbury attorneys Kymberley Best and Timothy Bowers.
Complaint: Blanket wrapped around neck
On May 20, 2013, Olin was sentenced by then-President Judge Robert Sacavage to nine to 23 months in jail for her part in the city’s cocaine ring.
One day the next week, Olvany hovered over Olin’s bed while she was sleeping, wrapped a blanket around Olin’s neck and began choking and verbally threatening her, according to her complaint.
Olin said she attempted to report Olvany’s conduct to her criminal defense attorney, John McLaughlin, but prison staff blocked her letters to him and refused to let her use the phone.
On several occasions when she was allowed to use the phone, three or four corrections officers sat in the room so that she could not speak freely to McLaughlin without fear of retaliation, according to the lawsuit.
After Olin reported the choking incident to a counselor, she had privileges taken away.
Suit: Commander cut off access to money
Wheary froze Olin’s money account, thus preventing commissary, access to writing materials and telephone calls, and he blocked her visitors, according to her complaint.
Wheary and Johnson ordered Olin into maximum security and all her extra clothing and possessions, which included notes concerning the choking incident, were confiscated; those notes were not returned to her, according to her complaint.
Olin got a message to McLaughlin through another inmate, and the attorney took the matter to Sunbury police.
Officers of the Northumberland County Adult Probation investigated Olin’s claims and found her account to be credible.
Sacavage released Olin on Sept. 16, 2013, to a re-entry program and her home to finish her sentence, but no action was taken with respect to the reported threats and harassing remarks, according to the lawsuit, which states Olvany was never disciplined.
Olvany and the prison managers’ actions served no legitimate penal purpose, were not applied in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, were done maliciously and sadistically to cause harm and were violation of her constitutional rights, according to her lawsuit.
In failing to train and supervise appointed officers in such a way as to prevent assaults on prisoners, the county and prison board have shown both deliberate indifference to the treatment of prisoners, according to the complaint.
As a direct and proximate result of actions, court documents said Olin has suffered hospitalization, migraine headaches, loss of sleep, nightmares, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, fear emotional distress and the need for psychological care together with medication.
In addition to one count of constitutional violation, the defendants are also being sued for assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Olin is asking for $1 million on each count together with punitive damages, costs, interest, counsel fees and any other relief that the court sees fit.
Clausi blames Shoch, prison leadership
Clausi, a member of the prison board, criticized Commissioner Rick Shoch, the vice chair of that board, and the management of the prison. He also said he tried to settle the lawsuit, but was not successful.
“Now the taxpayers will pay the price,” Clausi said. “Mr. Shoch’s leadership is going the wrong direction. I believe the management must quit and go. I urge the prison board to open their eyes.”
Said Shoch: “Based on the investigative information that I have reviewed, I have seen nothing that would indicate that this claim has any merit whatsoever,” Shoch said.
“Our insurer was previously made aware of the fact that Ms. Olin’s attorneys had threatened a lawsuit, and we will coordinate with them regarding the defense of it.”